Greek

Kale yeah! Salads are no longer the side piece. As consumers become more ingredient conscious, chefs and restaurateurs across the globe are being pushed to think beyond traditional proteins, and experiment with ethnic flavors and greens-based dishes to accommodate varying palates. Caesar salad, move over and make room for quinoa and farro bowls topped with spicy broccoli, roasted chickpeas and basil.

This month happens to be National Salad Month, and thankfully, here in Florida, we’ve got an abundance of fresh greens and vegetables to mix and match to whip up amazing creations. We’ll start with three places in town to get your salad fix.

Forks up. . . let’s eat our way to summer.

1. The Sanctum Cafe

Sanctum

Dish: Savage Salad – Organic greens, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, eggplant and corn – all roasted and tossed with bell peppers, sweet onions, carrot ribbons, celery, jicama, zucchini, peas and pepitas. Served with rosemary dressing.

Local Fare: Corn from Long & Scott Farms (Zellwood, Fla.), Deer Park Peaches (Saint Cloud, Fla.) and salad greens and microgreens from The Greenhouse (Apopka, Fla.).

Favorite Salad Ingredient: “Roasted cauliflower is one my favorite toppings!” – Chef-Owner Chelsea Savage

2. The COOP

The COOP

The Skinny: The new salad bar costs $9.99 per person and includes an endless amount of offerings, such as locally-sourced greens and vegetables, proteins and house made dressings.

Local Fare: The COOP is trekking around the state and shopping with Alderman Farms (Boynton Beach, Fla.) and L&M Farms (Palatka, Fla.).

Favorite Salad Ingredients: “I like the grilled vegetables and the specialty salads that rotate daily at the end of the bar. One of my favorites is a Hoppin’ John Succotash that Whitney makes and a few more are grilled asparagus, roasted tomatoes and feta cheese.” – Chef-Owner John Rivers

3. Dixie Kharma
Photo Credit: LemonHearted.com
Photo Credit: LemonHearted.com

Dish: Hail Kale Salad – Garlicky kale, blackened corn, pickled beets and watermelon rind and smoked tempeh

Local Fare: In this salad, Dixie Kharma’s uses Florida-grown corn and watermelon. When available, they toss in baby kale grown in their pallet garden located in front of Market on South.

Favorite Salad Ingredients: “We love to mix it up. Local ingredients are our first choice. Everything from peppery greens and herbs are a must. Pickled veggies, fruits and roots, heirloom beans and grains are also great.” – Dixie Kharma crew

Greens Guide  

Here’s a handful of local shops to visit to stock up on greens, grains and vegetables. This list is in no way inclusive of our local offerings in Central Florida, so comment with your local go-to store! 

What To Buy Right Now

Bell Pepper | Blueberry | Cabbage | Cantaloupe | Carrot | Celery | Cucumber | Eggplant Grapefruit | Guava | Mango | Mushroom | Orange | Papaya | Peaches | Radish | Sweet Corn | Tangerine | Tomato | Watermelon

Seasonal Recipe – Taverna Opa Orlando’s Watermelon Feta Salad Pizza
Taverna Opa Salad

Ingredients:

  • 1 Watermelon slice
  • 1 Oz. Feta cheese, crumbled
  • 6 Kalamata olives, sliced
  • 5 Mint leaves
  • 1/2 Tbsp. Balsamic glaze

Directions:

  • On a cutting board, slice the watermelon in half
  • Place the flat side down, and cut a one-inch thick slice, then cut into five slices
  • Plate on a round dish and add feta cheese, olives, mint leaves and drizzle with balsamic glaze

Snack on,

Chauniqua Major, but we’re friends so call me Major!

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taverna opa orlando

It’s a wild scene on this night out: Belly dancers and patrons shimmying on wooden table tops with diners and servers throwing fistfuls of napkins into the air yelling “opa!”, all while a DJ blasts thumping Greek music and Top 40 songs from his booth. Just another late night at Taverna Opa.

Located in Pointe Orlando off of busy International Drive, Taverna Opa is part of a family of restaurants stemming from South Florida. Locally, the restaurant is run by General Manager Vassilis Coumbaros, who spends his days and nights tending to the needs of Taverna Opa and making sure the ship runs smoothly.

On a recent visit, I saw Mr. Coumbaros watching over the servers, helping with the bar, and even assisting with the DJ-ing as the night went on. The Zorba dance song begins to play and the entire restaurant joins in on the Zorba, a traditional Greek line dance, that spins around the restaurant faster and faster, culminating with a heart-stopping table top dance off between the servers.

Usually, the lunch and early dinner time is more calm and serene, with more and more upbeat and raucous music turning on as the night goes on. It’s a great place for celebrations with groups that are looking for a different, and quite “‘Fun’ with a capital F” time.

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The food here is just as good as the “Fun”, with dishes emphasizing fresh, high quality ingredients. For those dining in large parties, try some of their family style menu that comes with various courses depending on the price point. Start with some simple, but exquisite hummus, made with chickpeas, olive oil, garlic, and sea salt and pepper in a mortar and pestle for you to mash yourself and served with pita bread. The saganaki, a vlachotiri cheese is served flaming, tableside with a brandy sauce. The oak-wood grilled octopus ($12.00) is a great appetizer, crispy and tender with just the right amount of chewiness and crunch.

For entrees, there is a nice list of seafood, lamb, beef, and chicken dishes to choose from, such as the traditional gyro platters to lamb shank, braised in fresh rosemary, garlic, carrots, tomatoes and red wine, and served on a bed of orzo. The lamb chops are a good choice too, marinated for 36 hours with fresh herbs and garlic and served with roasted potatoes. For seafood lovers, try the red American snapper, a grilled dish served with a lemon caper sauce and wild greens and rice. My favorite entree here however is the grilled seabass, a perfectly seared and rather filling fillet of seabass with a garlic, dill, and lemon zest served with wild greens and rice.

For dessert, try the sweet opa ekmek is a slice of kantaifi cake made with shredded phyllo dough walnuts, and topped with whipped custard cream or the baklava made with walnuts, cinnamon, cloves and honey.

Overall, if you are looking for a memorable, entertaining evening with good food and friends, try Taverna Opa out. You’ll be dancing on table tops and savoring a taste of Greece for days to come.

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A new Chef’s Tasting Menu is available during the month. Call to make reservations ahead.

taverna opa orlando

Diners and belly dancers together on the table tops

taverna opa orlando

The Dining Room at Taverna Opa

taverna opa orlando

Mortar and pestle hummus and pita at Taverna Opa

taverna opa orlando

Oak wood grilled Octopus appetizer from Taverna Opa

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36 hour marinated Lamb chops

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Grilled Seabass with lemon zest

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Red American snapper with a lemon caper sauce

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Dessert at Taverna Opa

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Baklava at Taverna Opa

Taverna Opa on Urbanspoon

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Its location on Walt Disney World’s Boardwalk resort puts it slightly off the radar for many Orlando locals, but Kouzzina by Cat Cora, the Food Network’s first female Iron Chef, reigns supreme under the house of Mouse. Kouzzina by Cat Cora is the Greek American chef’s first table side restaurant, featuring a diverse menu of Greek and Mediterranean specialties inspired by recipes from her childhood and heritage. The atmosphere is loud and family friendly and the restaurant itself is accented with shades of woods, creating a rustic, homey environment surrounding a large open kitchen area. When Chef Cat Cora is away, this Kouzzina (which means kitchen in Greek) is led by the fabulous and fun Chef Dee Foundoukis and her team, bringing together flavorful dishes made on the restaurant’s wood-burning grill and oak-fired ovens. The dishes range from oak-grilled steak and lamb, Greek spinach pie, to calamari, and more.

For a more quiet, intimate, and sophisticated experience, reserve and head on over to the restaurant’s private “CoraNation Room” on Friday and Saturday Nights. Here, up to 24 guests are treated to a specially created, seasonal five course menu meal for $65, with wine paired with three of the courses (appetizer, entrée and dessert) for an additional $35. This experience is available at 6:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights and reservations must be made at least 72 hours in advance by calling 407-WDW-DINE.

I was recently invited to a media dinner featuring a sample menu for the “CoraNation” dinner. From the amuse bouche featuring poached lobster to the leeks with glazed duck, everything tasted very good, delicate and refined. There were fennel dusted goat cheese salads, made with lettuce grown on Disney property at one of the EPCOT farms, as well as a chilled watermelon drink. The main entrees included oak grilled and peppered lavender lamb loin served with clamshell mushrooms in a smoked tomato lamb jus as well as pan roasted red grouper with kalamata olive oil hollandaise, summer squash, and kasseri corn cake. The meal ended with a sweet note, or rather, three: crispy phyllo filled with fig honey and farmer’s cheese, phoenika with chocolate tahini, Greek yogurt panna cotta with za’atar spiced grapefruit. Each dish came with a wines, many from Greek and some from Chef Cora’s private label, as well as sides of various luscious Greek olive oils.

For a preview of what you may find at this experience, see the photos below from the media event at Kouzzina featuring this “CoraNation” experience:


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Sample menu for the CoraNation room – RSVP ahead

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Glazed duck and lobster amuse bouche items

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Fennel, goat cheese, baby beets salad

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Cat Cora’s private label Greek Extra Virgin Olive Oil

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Olives and olive oil from Greece

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Watermelon shooter

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The entree of pan seared grouper and lamb loin

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Pan seared grouper with kasseri corn cake

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Oak grilled Lamb loin with mushrooms and au jus

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Dessert

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Greek yogurt panna cotta with za’atar spiced grapefruit.

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phoenika with chocolate tahini

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crispy phyllo filled with fig honey and farmer’s cheesePhotobucket

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